"O FREEDOM" - JUNETEENTH REFLECTIONS - FR. JOSEPH ALSAY, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH, OKLAHOMA CITY
Excerpts of A Sermon Delivered by the Reverend Joseph C. Alsay
at Temple B’nai Israel, OKC
on the Occasion of the Juneteenth
June 18, 2021
A month ago, my youngest child, Caleb had to write a report, create a tri-fold exhibit, dress up as and recite facts about a famous historical character. He chose Abraham Lincoln. As part of his exhibit we listed a few of the many accomplishments Lincoln achieved during his life-time. The Gettysburg Address, 13th Amendment and The Emancipation Proclamation. I have to admit that Caleb looked so cute bedecked in a white shirt, black slacks with matching suspender, a fake beard and black felt stovetop hat. I’m told that he did a great as he quoted facts about Ole Honest Abe.
Yet, I suspect that he did not understand or comprehend the weightiness of those historic events. And, thank God, as a child of the 21st century, he doesn’t have to intimately and experientially relate to the reasons which necessitated those words and events. But it pains me that on January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America, had to issue an executive order of emancipation.
The inhumanity of slavery, human cruelty and the pernicious practices of ordinary people confuse and confound me. It goes against the first core Jewish value expressed by this congregation: B’tzelem Elohim “In God’s image.”
That’s why the African-American liberation and the Exodus story are uniquely connected. American slaves found comfort in the biblical story of Moses and the Israelites, seeing themselves as the Israelite slaves and crying out to God to one day be free.
So, the story of the Exodus and the history of American slavery offers us examples of resilience from two communities who have suffered great and unspeakable atrocities.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, in a 1963 speech about religion and race, said “that equality is a good thing, a fine goal, may be generally accepted. What is lacking is a sense of the monstrosity of inequality”. History is made not just by the vicious attacks of bad people, or the heroic conduct of saints, but also by the silence of generally good people
This fight for equality has gone on so long and yet for some, the Promised Land still seems so far away.
On this night one day before millions will celebrate Juneteenth. On this night--one day after the president sign a bill into law making the 19th of June a federal holiday. On this night –this sacred Shabbat, in this “house of prayer for all people,” 156 years after that fateful event, we celebrate the promise of liberation but also realize that it is a clarion call to continue the hard work that remains to be done.
Yes, Juneteenth is a word that glows with wonder. Juneteenth is a celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and announced that all slaves were now free.
I can imagine that when those slaves made their way back to now, their former master’s home to pack their few belongings they began to sing that old spiritual “O Freedom” Knowing that they were about to embark upon a long and arduous journey that lie ahead.
Juneteenth invites us to reflect upon the fact that, liberation is not a one-time event. It is an ongoing project beckoning us to write the vision of freedom and issue renewed proclamations of “freedom now.” Juneteenth signifies the fact that freedom and liberation is both behind and ahead of us.
So, let us be emancipated from our silence and our apathy. Let be about the work of: Tikkun Olam “repairing the world.” Let us turn from building walls to building bridges. Let us not turn away from those who are different but towards our friends and neighbors and build instead alliances and commitments to work together so that we can all reach the Promised Land together. Amen.
~Fr. Joseph Alsay, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
YOU ARE ENOUGH! DR. BRADLEY DAVIDSON, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH, OKLAHOMA CITY, OK
A few weeks ago, I received a phone call from Father Joseph. I don't know how many of you have received such a call but it made me wonder, "What is Father Joseph up to now? I wonder what adventure he's planning now?" And I really wondered, "What is Father Joseph going to ask me to do?" Since I had played the piano for Stations of the Cross here a couple of times, I wondered if he wanted me to play the piano for something. And Father Joe knows that I also am a spiritual director so I wondered if he knew someone that was looking for a spiritual companion. However, I wasn't prepared for the question he ultimately asked me, "Will you be the guest preacher on Pride Sunday?" Father Joe, I can only say I'm glad I was sitting down when you asked.
Almost immediately, my first thought was to say "no". I thought, "What is Father Joe thinking? I can't preach! I'm not holy enough or pure enough or 'fill in the blank' enough." But there was something inside my heart that said, "you should do this." In that moment, God reminded me of a sermon I heard a few years ago that dramatically changed my view of God and my relationship with God. That sermon was delivered by a shy, quiet man who was not a particularly dynamic speaker who himself struggled with not feeling good enough all his life. That man was Father Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest who, in my view, is one of the greatest theologians, teachers, and spiritual companions of our age.
I remembered the power of his sermon that night and I remembered how many times since then that I have yearned for others to hear that message. And I realized, now is my chance. I recognize that I'm no Henri Nouwen, but I must spread that message. So, here I am. So thank you, Father Joe, for asking me and a big thank you to each of you for your patience and grace on this, my first try.
Not good enough. Not enough.
Am I the only one who has heard that familiar tape playing in my head sometimes weekly or even daily?
It is an old message that has been told to ourselves and our ancestors since practically the beginning of time. We can hear "not enough" echo all the way back to the garden of Eden. Remember? Adam and Eve discovered they were naked. They were ashamed. God came looking for them. They felt they were not good enough to face God.
We hear it again from Moses who resisted God's call because he thought he couldn't speak eloquently enough.
Then there was Jeremiah whose call from God was met with the argument, "I'm not mature enough."
Then, there's the New Testament account of the Roman Centurion who called for Jesus to heal his servant. And he said to Jesus, "I'm not worthy for you to come under my roof. Just say the word so my servant can be healed."
And in today's gospel reading we heard the story of the woman who was afflicted by a bleeding disease. Such a disease made her 'unclean' under Jewish law. I'm wondering if that is why she didn't want to be seen? She just wanted to touch the hem of Jesus' garment…unnoticed. I’m wondering if she was thinking, "I'm not clean enough or healthy enough or holy enough."
Unfortunately, the "Not Enough" narrative has survived the test of time. It's not only a self-inflicted narrative. Sometimes, we have even heard others tell us we are not good enough.
Let me take you back to a summer day in 1969. Specifically, June 28, 1969 - 52 years ago this weekend - in Greenwich Village in New York City. For decades, tension between the gay and lesbian community and mainstream society had been building after years of police harassment and brutality against the community. Years of being treated as "not good enough." But on that summer day, the heat came to a boil. The community had had enough and they revolted. It began at the Stonewall Inn in New York City and those acts of resistance have since been called the Stonewall Uprising. But those uprisings didn't fix the problem immediately. In fact, they may have even intensified the harassment and mistreatment. But what DID happen as a result of the uprisings was a coming together of the LGBTQ community and the surfacing of allies. Before long, there were organized marches. And conversations began to happen. Laws began to be challenged. And today, thanks to our brothers and sisters who came before us, same gender couples can marry and share life openly, can worship together, and not fear they will be 'outed' and lose their jobs or their livelihood or be the target of violence. In short…we can be 'good enough'. It was quite a transformation from feeling the infliction of shame upon the community to a feeling of greater confidence and freedom and even pride.
Yes, I suspect we all have that message playing in our head from time to time; that inner voice saying we're not good enough. Or maybe we hear from others that we're not good enough. I don't know about you, but my personal journey of transformation from 'not good enough' to pride is ongoing. It continues. I’m not fully there yet. And it's a tough journey not because of barriers that Christ has put before us. No…
But I have good news for you this morning. Father Henri Nouwen's life-long message to us - that message that transformed me - can be summed up in one sentence: "You and I are the beloved sons and daughters of the God of the Universe!" You are the son, the daughter….you are the child of the Heavenly Father. A radically and unconditionally loving Father. A Father who has your picture in his wallet and who pulls it out to show proudly to anyone who will look! In first John, we hear the words, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!"
For those of you who are my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, you know that many of us have crossed a wider, deeper, dirtier ditch to get to the place of accepting and acknowledging the love of our Heavenly Father than anybody else. But we are here! And we must be confident that we are the beloved of God no matter what others say about us or do to us. Paul wrote to the Romans, "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." On the occasion of my confirmation a few weeks ago, my friend and confirmation sponsor Judy Moon gifted me with a beautiful plaque that hangs on my office wall. It says "Marked as Christ's own forever." Wow! We are the wildly beloved children of the God of all creation! Period.
Thank you, Heavenly Father, for that depth and breadth of love for us! Thank you Father Henri Nouwen for sharing this good news with me. Thank you, Father Joseph, for your commitment to building a faith community who lives out this love for each other, just as Christ has done. Now, each of us must share this wonderful news with everyone we meet. Especially those who feel they are not enough.
So, as I close, I have two challenges for you:
We are the beloved of God. And we must love like God. That is the gospel message, my friends. Thanks be to God. Amen!
Dr. Bradley Davidson, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City, OK
THE EPISTLE SIDE OF THE ALTAR/THE GOSPEL SIDE OF THE ALTAR - DR. GIL HAAS, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH, OKLAHOMA CITY
In the liturgical traditions of Western Christianity, the Epistle side of the altar designates the side of a church from which the Epistle is read during the Mass. It is the right hand side of the altar as viewed by the congregation from the nave. The gospel was read from the opposite side of the altar, which was consequently known as the “Gospel side”. This usage made it way into widespread Anglican practice after the revival of highly ceremonial liturgies in the second half of the nineteenth century. In some places, the Gospel side is called the Evangelist side. During a high mass, the lectern holding the Missal (the book from which the mass is read by the celebrant) was moved from the Epistle side of the altar to the Gospel side of the altar after the Epistle had been read. The Book of Common Prayer discourages all such labels, stating “it is desirable that the lessons be read from a lectern or pulpit, and that the Gospel be read from the same lectern, from the pulpit, or from the midst of the congregation” (p 406).
~Dr. Gil Haas, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City, OK
HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER - DR. GIL HAAS, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH, OKLAHOMA CITY
Following the American revolution, our country’s former Anglicans needed their own Prayer Book, and the first American Book of Common Prayer was ratified by the first General Assembly of the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1789. Our Book of Common Prayer relied heavily upon the Church of England’s Prayer Book as well as the Scottish Eucharistic rite. The Scottish influence was in deference to America’s first bishop, Samuel Seabury, being consecrated by Scottish bishops when English bishops refused. One consequence of this Scottish influence is the inclusion in our Eucharist prayer of an invocation of the Holy Spirit, or epiclesis. An epiclesis is not found in Anglican Eucharistic prayers, but it was present in the Scottish service which was influenced by Orthodox liturgies. The epiclesis is the moment of consecration in the Orthodox branch of Christianity; the Words of Institution are the moment of consecration to Catholics. This blending of Catholic and Orthodox beliefs are unique to our Eucharistic prayer. Our Prayer Book was altered in 1892, 1928, and in 1979. Our current Prayer Book contains for the first time services for baptism and family devotions. Eucharistic prayers, morning and evening prayer, and burial services are included in both contemporary and traditional language.
~Dr. Gil Haas, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City
REFLECTIONS ON JOHN 1:35-42 - JEN MATIAS, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH, OKLAHOMA CITY
John 1: 35-42
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.
Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
One of my favorite singer/songwriters as a youth, David Crowder, wrote a song that I used to listen to repeatedly. In it, he sings, “come and listen, come to the water’s edge all you who know and fear the Lord. Let me tell you what he’s done for me, what he’s done for you, what he’s done for us…Come and listen to what he’s done.”
It’s a simple, repetitive lyric with a really sweet melody, but I think the simplicity of the message is what makes it so meaningful.
Come. Listen. See. Experience Love. Be changed. Extend the invitation…
I often feel inept when engaging in conversations about things that matter. I’m one who will sit and analyze a conversation hours afterward, thinking of things I “could’ve/should’ve/would’ve said”... Especially when it comes to such topics as my beliefs and values, I feel deeply the ways that I have grown and changed as I’ve journeyed through life, but I have a hard time expressing them sometimes, and especially trying to justify them to those whose viewpoints haven’t shifted in the same direction mine have. I find myself saying, “I’m still navigating the complexities of that issue…” as almost an apology and a cop-out. This passage, the reminder of Christ’s invitation to “come and see,” is a relief to me. It reminds me that I’m not responsible for changing someone, but I am invited to extend to them the same love that has been extended to me.
Jesus invites us to come and see how loving our neighbor and praying for those who hurt us can speak louder than any convincing words we might string together. He invites us to follow him, not out of guilt or coercion, but as a response to being loved. He did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world, through him.
His invitation remains, every moment of every day, for us to accept over and over again.
Come. See. Follow me.
Lord, thank you for the gift of love you have given us in your son, Jesus. Help us to accept your love and grace in every moment, especially when we feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the darkness around us and within us. Give us the opportunity and the courage to extend that love to everyone around us, especially those we might differ with. Amen.
Submitted by Jen Matias, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City
REFLECTIONS ON JOHN 1:29-34 - JEN MATIAS, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH, OKLAHOMA CITY
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”
What strikes me about this passage is the character of John the Baptist. He had gained quite a following in Israel, preaching and baptising, and yet though he found himself the center of attention, the work he was doing was not self-serving. He clarifies that the whole “reason [he] came baptizing with water was that (Christ) might be revealed to Israel.” John was a humble advocate. In the moment that he realized Christ was there, he used whatever influence he had over the people around him to direct their gaze and attention to Christ. John was attuned to the voice of God. He recognized the Spirit resting on Christ as peacefully and poignantly as a dove.
I don’t know about you, but most days I spend much of my time distracted and attuned to many things at once, most of which don’t really even matter. I crave the thrill of affirmation and recognition, and John’s humility and his attunement to the still, quiet voice speaks to me.
Maybe right now we can pause. Set everything down. Take a breath and listen to the stillness. In what ways might the love of Christ be revealed to you and through you today?...
Lord, help us to recognize your Spirit speaking and working around us. Nurture us as we grow in our own faithfulness to you. Give us the strength so set aside the things that would distract us from being your love in this world, and fill us with your gentle Spirit of peace. Amen.
~Submitted by Jen Matias, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
We recited the Nicene Creed during service this morning. This is often a part of service, but I’m not familiar enough with Rites I and II and how they are formatted during different seasons. We’re in Rite II during Ordinary Time. I’m doing well to remember that.
Our congregation has people with Roman Catholic roots. There are a few cradle Episcopalians, Baptists, and several Pentecostals like I used to be.
I think I can distinguish the high church folks because they know the traditions and keep them as effortlessly as breathing, but I sense their deep reverence at the same time.
Those with Protestant roots may not keep all of the traditions. They may make the sign of the Cross or not at times when everyone else does — things like that.
The new ones are somewhat glued to their programs (me). I’m getting the hang of it though. In fact, I can feel the traditions touching my heart and taking on meaning during service.
The things of God always stir the spirits of those who come into His house in search of His blessings.
I promise you this: A great move of God is unfolding. There is much unrest in Christendom, and it probably looks like we are headed for demise to those on the outside looking in.
Many prominent Evangelical leaders are deconstructing. The Southern Baptist Convention is falling apart, and I think others will follow. I believe that God is purifying the Church as a whole and setting us all up for a move of His Spirit.
In my personal faith life, I have been keenly watching and challenging my own ideas about God. My beliefs have been tested by my own difficulties, my disappointment in others, and the unrest around me.
As I recite creeds, I ask myself if I really believe what I’m speaking. I think that’s the point. Can I stand before God and wholeheartedly affirm these things?
Yes. Yes, I can. I still believe, and I find that speaking what I believe makes room in my heart for the roots to deepen; for the foundation to solidify; for my boldness of faith to return.
~Tessa Yeakley, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Altar bells draw the congregation’s attention to the Eucharist’ salient points. This was particularly critical during Medieval Latin masses, as the communicants were unfamiliar with the language. Ritual Notes states that bells should be rung on four occasions. The first is at the Sanctus (i.e., “Holy (ring), Holy (ring), Holy (ring) Lord God of Hosts”...) which has given the name, “sanctus bells”, to altar bells. The bells are rung again immediately prior to the Words of Institution (“For in the night in which he was betrayed...”). In Catholic tradition, this is when the elements are about to be become Christ’s body and blood, and the communicants’ attention should be maximized. Thirdly, the bells are rung thrice after each segment of the Words of Institution so the communicants could worship Christ’s elevated presence (the priest genuflects [ring], elevates the consecrated host [ring], and genuflects [ring]). The bells are rung a final time at the Great AMEN inviting the congregation to come forward for Communion. In England, tower bells are often rung simultaneously with the altar bells so that home-bound parishioners could worship with the congregation, and bells are continuously rung during the Gloria at Christmas’ midnight mass.
~Dr. Gil Haas, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
ANGLICAN TITLES IN THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH - DR. GIL HAAS, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
Some dioceses within the Anglican communion can be very large while others are quite small. The Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf covers several countries, while the Diocese of Sodor and Man covers just the Isle of Man (221 square miles). Some populous dioceses are divided into areas with each assigned to a suffragan bishop who remain suffragans until the appointing bishop retires. For example, the Bishop of Toronto has suffragans assisting him in four geographical divisions. Another alternative is for a bishop to appoint an assisting coadjutor bishop who will become the diocesan bishop on the bishop’s retirement. In some parts of the Anglican communion, archdeacons are named to assist the bishop in administrative functions, and they are the most senior clergy in that diocese. In the Episcopal Church, the senior priest of a cathedral is called the dean. Before 2000, some persons who held this position were called provosts. Deans are assisted by canons or, formerly, prebendaries. In the Scottish Episcopal Church, the senior priest of a cathedral is called provost. In the Anglican Church of Canada, a cathedral’s senior priest is known as the rector of the cathedral and dean of the diocese.
~Dr. Gil Haas, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
The Archbishop of Canterbury is the Primus inter pares or first among equals of the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal church is a member of the Anglican Communion, and therefore we are in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. However, each member of the Anglican Communion is an independent body headed by a primate. The Archbishop of Canterbury is also called the Primate of All England. For historic reasons, the Church of England also calls its second most senior bishop primate. Therefore, the Archbishop of York is considered the Primate of England, without the “All”. Many primates in the Anglican Communion are called archbishops; for example, the Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa. The Scottish Episcopal Church uniquely calls its primate Primus. The Episcopal Church, and many other churches, call their primates Presiding Bishops. Primates of churches in much of India and Pakistan are called Moderators, reflecting their Protestant heritage. Sometimes, the Anglican Communion is divided into groups of dioceses called provinces which is headed by a primate called a Metropolitan. This paradigm is not employed in the Episcopal Church. However, the Archbishop of Sydney, Australia, is always the Metropolitan of the Australian Province of New South Wales.
~Dr. Gil Haas, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.